A groundbreaking study presented at the annual meeting of the American Heart Association has highlighted a significant decrease in deaths due to cardiac arrest among college athletes over the past two decades.
Analyzing data from more than 2 million NCAA athletes, the research identified 143 cases of cardiac arrest-related deaths during sports activities, with notable variations based on race, gender, and the type of sport.
Dr. Kimberly Harmon, a co-author of the study and a professor at the University of Washington, emphasized the lack of certainty regarding the reasons for the declining rates.
However, she suggested potential factors such as improved emergency action plans, increased CPR knowledge, and enhanced accessibility to defibrillators. Harmon stressed the importance of considering cardiac arrest as a possibility when someone collapses suddenly.
The study indicated a correlation between the decrease in cardiac arrest deaths and the rising prevalence of screening measures. Many colleges now mandate electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG) exams for athletes before they are cleared to participate in sports. EKGs measure the heart’s electrical activity, aiding in the detection of dangerous heart rhythms.
While cardiac arrest remains relatively rare among college athletes, the study revealed intriguing disparities. Basketball players faced a higher risk, with a rate of 1 in 8,188 in any given year, and men had a higher risk than women, with rates of 1 in 43,348 and 1 in 164,504, respectively.
Notably, deaths among Black athletes were three times more common than among white players, suggesting potential factors such as genetics, lifestyle, and the specific sport played.
The screening process, particularly with EKGs, has proven effective in identifying athletes at risk, catching between two-thirds and three-quarters of those susceptible to cardiac issues. Athletes with abnormal EKG results may undergo additional assessments, such as echocardiograms.
While the overall risk of cardiac arrest remains relatively low, these findings underscore the importance of continued research, targeted screenings, and increased awareness to further improve the safety and well-being of college athletes.
Understanding the specific factors contributing to the disparities identified in the study will be crucial in developing more tailored preventive measures and interventions.